Every year at holiday time thousands of pounds of wrapping paper is produced, using exorbitant amounts of energy, and quickly discarded just moments after opening your shiny new object. The colorful gift wrap loses energy through production, shipment and storage; a thought that is not exactly glittering. In fact, each ream of paper takes approximately the energy equivalent of 2 gallons of gasoline to produce.
A few years ago I realized how much wrapping paper is wasted during the holidays and made a personal quest to no longer purchase any more of the festive paper. It was a challenge, but I knew I was saving a lot of energy and money, and I was no longer contributing to deforestation. I had to think creatively, and searching the web for ideas, successfully found new ways to wrap my gifts. Each year since then I’ve done my best to continue the tradition, and my gifts are always quite an array of different papers. One of my favorite gift wrapping ideas included outdated grocery advertisements (collected from family) that highlighted specials on meats and poultry; I used this paper to wrap a grill.
For smaller gifts such as jewelry, I have used discarded magazine pages with pictures of trees and snow. This year I’ll be wrapping my gifts with white packing paper that I have saved from past mail orders. I ironed the paper to release the crinkles and may decorate it with holiday stamps or paint to add to the festive look; I will encourage the recipients to recycle it once the gifts are opened. For larger and bulkier items, I will be reusing a couple of gift bags from previous gifts, and I’ve even thought of putting some gifts in tote bags to be used later for groceries. Bows and ribbons can be trickier; I have sometimes used ribbons from products, old clothes, or simply used an accent like a sprig of greenery.
Wrapping gifts in fabric can be a great choice, but only if the fabric is going to someone who will reuse it to say, sew into a new shirt. Buying fabric just for the sake of wrapping is not any more energy efficient than paper. However, if the gift can be wrapped in something that is also part of the gift, then problem solved, such as kitchen utensils wrapped in cloth napkins, or bath products wrapped in a fluffy new towel. For bonus points, make one of those gifts something that’s energy efficient!
Don’t forget about the other packaging involved in your gift-giving. Try to recycle cardboard boxes, buy items with less packaging, and use biodegradable or recycled packing materials when you ship gifts (and we are hoping that delivery service has chosen to implement more energy efficient delivery trucks. Of course the most energy efficient way to wrap gifts is not at all! Choose presents that don’t need wrapping. Donations to charities, classes on a fun new hobby, and tickets to events can be given in a simple card made from recycled paper or a paper alternative.
Amanda McAlpin works for New West Technologies supporting the Vehicle Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy.